Why coffee in Portugal is so bad

The title of this blog post is the text I entered into my google search bar at Lisbon airport, on my way back to London last weekend. What Google showed me on top was a blog post titled “why coffee in Portugal is so good“. The contents of the post, though, had given me the answer.

In terms of coffee cultures, Spain and Portugal are rather similar. Coffee shops usually double up as bars, unlike in England for example. This means that the baristas aren’t particularly skilled, and so you don’t get fancy latte art. The coffees you get are thus espresso, espresso with some milk and espresso with lots of milk. The milk being foamed gives the coffee a good taste, in Spain that is.

The reason coffee in Portugal tastes bad is the same reason that coffee in France tastes bad – it is a result of colonialism.

During the years of the Salazar dictatorship, Portugal was economically isolated. This meant that it could only turn to its colonies for coffee. And the Portuguese colonies (not sure if Brazil is included in this since it became independent way back in the 1800s) exclusively produced Robusta coffee. And Robusta coffee, being inferior to Arabica, is roasted slowly, and produces a bitter brew. Which is what we uniformly got in our trip to Lisbon.

France had a similar story. Though there was no economic isolation, imports from its colonies were subsidised, and this was again largely Robusta coffee. And so, as the roads and kingdoms post linked above explains, coffee in France is bad.

I’m not sure if Spain got/gets most of its colonies from its erstwhile colonies. If it does, it goes a long way in explaining the quality of coffee in Spanish cafes, despite them doubling up as bars and not necessarily having skilled Baristas. For the likes of Colombia and Ecuador and Honduras produce absolutely brilliant Arabica coffee.


5 thoughts on “Why coffee in Portugal is so bad”

  1. Thanks. My wife likes her coffee and we are thinking of visiting France (Paris and Disneyland) and Rome. Not sure if we will give it a go, but will keep this in mind if we visit. Also, yes, a bit touristy I know 🙂

  2. Good points well made. I’m a big fan of Portuguese coffee but it’s more to my taste, I also like the way it’s served — no latte art, just straightforward caffeine punch, hard but not as bitter as Italian coffee. As you can imagine, it’s a huge part of social life, providing my neighbours (who are often not well off) with a place to hang out with their mates. Time slows down!

    I do wonder though why French coffee can be so extraordinarily awful, yet has a similar general history with Portugal. Both countries are conservative about food and drink, but in mostly good ways, in a sense of preserving local flavours, keeping prices down in certain cases like with the fantastically cheap and decent wines.

    Thanks — Pascal

  3. Thank you for the explanation! I’ve been trying to figure out why the coffee is so bad since I’ve been here. I’ve mentioned it to a number of people that the coffee is extremely bitter and overall just not good, but it seems like people don’t notice. I stopped trying to find good coffee here and have just been fasting from coffee until I get back home.

    Thanks for the post!

  4. Hello, I’m french and I can tell you that most of the coffee served in France is made with arabica, not robusta. Actually I arrived to this article because I’m back from vacations in Portugal and I disliked this “robusta” taste. It’s true that in France you will rarely a good coffee in restaurants which are not specialized in coffee, but this has more to do with lack of technique and cheap espresso machines. But if you go to an actual coffee shop you will get good coffee, or even great specialty coffee in some places.
    I traveled once to the US for work (Minneapolis area) and frankly the filter coffee was disgusting (very watery, weird taste). Hopefully one day I can taste coffee from other States and get a better impression 🙂

  5. I was raving about Portugal’s coffee, best I’ve ever had (coming from US). A flower made out of the foam doesn’t make a good cup of coffee. I drank it multiple times a day from different places all over the country & it was always perfect & never bitter.

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